And just like that, a week has passed, and everyone is probably back from Crowduck already. I could ask how it was, but that would be silly, because I already know it was amazing. I need to hear stories, though. How did Dan and Tracy do at Ritchie? (Did they avoid capsizing?) Who got the biggest fish? Who won and lost what in poker? Were there blueberries?
But this isn’t really the place for me to be demanding stories from all of you. This is where I’m supposed to be giving out stories. So that’s what I’ll do. Incidentally, I think that answers why I haven’t been able to think of how to write any interesting blogs in the last few weeks. I wanted to sum up my entire life and tell you what it’s been like, but to do that I would have to give you a rundown of everything that’s happened to me in that entire period of time, and that would take almost as long as it took to live it. I forgot that the best way to go about this whole thing is to just tell a few stories that have beginnings and endings and all that stuff. I’ll give you three of those.
A couple Mondays ago, we had our weekly house meeting. The last couple house meetings had been unusually intense because we’ve been going through a lot of upheaval in who’ll be living here, and making decisions on a lot of big projects, like whether or not to affiliate ourselves with a group called Moishe House that builds communities to unite twenty-something Jews (three of us fit that bill, but we complicatedly decided not to do it). So this time we declared that we would have an unmeeting, where we would all just get together and not worry about anything official and just have fun with each other. It was a good thing to do. We took the meeting at a much slower pace than we’ve taken previous ones; usually we’ve got dinner ready by about seven and we start eating and talking, but this time we let the cooking be part of the gathering, and so everyone just kind of hung out in the two kitchens, talking and cooking. We’ve got some good cooks here. Sucharit, being from India, cooks Indian food, with lots of turmeric or curry powder or cardamom. Maddy has worked on farms for three years, so she knows exactly what’s going on out in our garden, and before house meals she goes out and grabs some lettuce or chard or beets or whatever’s ready, and so we have a salad that was growing just a few minutes before. Erica is gluten-sensitive and has taught herself how to bake lots of gluten-free seed breads and other stuff that’s generally delicious and nutritious both at once.
We put all the food out and ate it all while sitting around in a circle in the living room, which is big and has nice soft carpets and cushions for people who come to meditate and do Indian-style (as opposed to white-woman-style) yoga. We decided to spend dinner going around the circle and telling each other about how we’d been doing and what we’d been doing, in the form of “rose, bud, thorn”—one thing that happened lately that we enjoyed, one thing we’re excited about, and one thing we didn’t like. I recognized that from EcoHouse, though I have no idea what its origins are, and it made me feel a little more at home to be familiar with it. Appropriate, since here I am at home.
And then while we were doing the dishes, I floated the idea that we could all go out and harvest some juneberries that I’d noticed earlier along the Greenway when I biked by a couple who were picking them. The Greenway, if I haven’t mentioned it enough before, is one of the cities’ bike freeways, a trail cutting right across densely populated Midtown but sunk down below street level (going under dozens of overpasses) so that you avoid all the traffic on your bike and you never have to stop at a light. It’s well named, too, because all along the banks of the sunken corridor, there are plants, dense, free-growing, and lively. It’s just a few blocks from our house, and five of us—me, Matt, his girlfriend Cori (who doesn’t live here), Maddy, and Urmila—walked there with plastic buckets to take advantage of the bounty. It wasn’t strictly supplied by nature, since the juneberry trees I’d brought us to were clearly planted by a landscaping company. But that’s a technicality. What mattered was that we got out in the evening air and goofily climbed trees that are too small to be climbed and picked probably close to a gallon of juneberries. (They’re like big blueberries, but on a tree; they’re also called serviceberries or saskatoon berries.) Maddy is intense about doing lots of work and it turned out she was equally intense about having fun: I think she was the first one into a tree and she reached for berries that most of us would have been content to let the tree keep. Cori and I both climbed up too, while I think Matt mostly used his lanky height to grab berries like a giraffe, and Urmila, in addition to picking, kept the berries all consolidated. We walked home in airily light spirits talking about berries, and we had so many that we’ve been eating them ever since and still haven’t quite run out.
So there’s a berry story. Here’s a different one. At the beginning of the month my college friend Matt moved into the city, though from now on I’m going to call him by his swordfighting nickname Number 6 to keep too-many-Matts confusion at bay. Number 6 moved in with Alicia, to whom I’d already offered to give a tour of United Noodles, which is a five-minute bike ride from my house and is also the biggest Asian supermarket in the Midwest. 6 is at least as interested in Asian food as Alicia, and even speaks some Japanese, and so we declared an outing. We got there around five on a Sunday and spent a happy hour wandering around the aisles and pondering mysterious products. Alicia knew from the start that she wanted some mochi. She and Matt both also got lots of ramen, since they’ve just moved and don’t really have a kitchen set up yet. I got us some stuff for tteokguk (say “dtuck-gook”), Korean rice cake soup: I already had most of it, so all I needed was bean sprouts, plus beef I got later at the local co-op. Then I brought them to Sprout House and we got to cooking. And subsequently, eating. But also, lots of talking. And watching internet videos. I’ve been hanging around with my Grinnell friends a pretty good amount lately, and we never fail to have a great time. (On a different occasion, or in fact two, I’ve gotten together with other Grinnell people to play Pandemic, a game where all the players work together as members of the Centers for Disease Control in order to stop the spread of several powerful diseases that threaten to kill everyone in the world. It’s great because it’s a cooperative game, and the only enemy is the game itself. It’s also famously hard to beat the diseases, but both the times I’ve played, we’ve banded together to win it. It’s amazing how every person counts.)
Alright, one more, and this time it’s not just about food. Erica, who went to Grinnell and helped to found Sprout House, also has family who have a cabin outside of the Cities. Ever since summer got in swing, she’s been trying to find time when some of us could go out to the cabin with her and enjoy a break from the city life. Last weekend, we finally got the chance. It was a group of five again, though this time it was me, Erica, Makai, Sucharit, and Brian. As Makai and I headed out past the suburbs in his car, we listened to folk music created by his friends and felt the pressure of the urban easing off of us. Erica’s family’s cabin is amazingly close to the cities for such a beautiful, wild area; in fact, someone here let me in on a nature-lover’s secret: drive for an hour in any direction from the Cities, and you’ll be in the wilderness. In this case, actually, we only needed about 45, plus a little extra for getting lost, because to get to the cabin, you have to turn off the main highway and then navigate down a route that involves at least five different roads named Cove: Cove Road, East Cove Road, North Cove Road, South Cove Road, Cove Lane. Once you’ve traveled to the end of the appropriate one, you park the car and the only way forward is to hike. It’s not quite at a Crowduck level of remoteness, but the act of leaving the car behind put me in the right mindset, and so did the view we got when we reached the bottom of the path and could see: the St Croix River, incredibly broad and stately here, stretching out far enough that it could as well be a long lake, lined with trees, all the cabins tucked out of sight in the greenery. Erica’s family’s cabin is one in a long line all built right up by the steep banks on the Wisconsin side of the river, all of them linked together by a dirt footpath that made me feel like I was in a paradisiacal, ancient village. It’s easier to get to these cabins by boat than by car.
We all set down our loads inside and took a brief moment to check the place out—it’s made of windows and bright wood and it feels incredibly well loved—and then we headed out to the water to swim. The river is up a good couple feet above normal, so there were no beaches to speak of, but we did head out to where there’s normally a sandbar and stood on drowned metal picnic tables and tossed a frisbee around in the water. It wasn’t the sort of hot, muggy day that makes you want to just stay in the water forever, so we came back in after not too long, but that was okay because we had more stuff to do. Erica, Makai, and I all took a long hike that culminated at an overlook that gave us a view for miles and miles around across the river, up to the bridge that goes back to Minnesota, over the forests on the other side. We sat there on old wooden benches and eventually lay down to let the serenity of it soak in.
After a while we shook off the doze and headed back down to the cabin to grab the kayaks. Erica and Makai had to share a yellow plastic two-seater, but everyone else got one to themselves. Brian gazed admiringly at Erica’s uncle’s wonderful racing kayak and admitted that he’d love to take that one, and so he did. I took a more utilitarian one, and Sucharit got in a snazzy blue one. Some of these were borrowed from the neighbors, who are good friends—of course they are; how could anyone not be in a place like this?
Erica led us across the river, over to a creek’s mouth on the opposite shore. A short distance into the trip, we turned around and discovered that Sucharit had capsized and was now bobbing around near his boat with a bemused smile. We got together to pull his boat out of the water and drain it, and he got back in and kept following us without incident (but also without his glasses). It turned out the actual mouth of the creek was nearly lost in drowned forest. We paddled around among the trees for a long time, ostensibly looking for it but really just silently exploring this novel environment. We paddled slowly and paused frequently and twisted and turned in our paths. There was no mist in the air, but you could almost see one hanging over us, pregnant with fairy-tale magic. Eventually, and somewhat despite ourselves, we found the creek, and paddled briefly up it to a bridge where we could switch kayaks. Brian let me use the nice white one, and it was wonderful. Someday I’ll own a kayak and have a place to use it. It’s been a dream of mine for a while, but it’s years in the future before I’ll be living close enough to a lake I can get to know that well.
Finally, we came back to the cabin, cooked a dinner replete with veggies, and played cards until we all dropped off to bed. In the morning we climbed up back into the world of roads and cars, but we carried the cabin with us for the next few days. Nature! Friends! What else does the human mind need? This place is beginning to feel like home.